By Macon Araneta

The Philippines is facing a new surge in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases on account of “disruptions” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rep. Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan) warned on the eve of World AIDS Day.

“Our fight against AIDS has been set back by the COVID-19 crisis, leaving thousands of Filipinos living with HIV undiagnosed and untreated,” Defensor, House Health committee vice- chairperson, said.

Citing National AIDS Registry statistics, Defensor said that at the height of lockdowns from April to June 2020, only 934 new HIV cases were detected countrywide, down 68 percent from the 2,938 spotted in the same three-month period in 2019.

Overall, from January to September this year, only 5,627 new HIV cases were diagnosed, down 42 percent from the 9,749 discovered in the same nine-month period in 2019, Defensor said.

“There is only one reason for the big drop in newly reported HIV cases – fewer Filipinos who may be living with HIV are actually getting tested,” Defensor said.

“Thus, we may have a larger number of undiagnosed and untreated individuals out there contributing to the spread of HIV, mainly through sexual contact, without them knowing it,” he added. 

HIV causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which destroys the human body’s natural ability to ward off all kinds of infections.

Although HIV still does not have any known cure, early diagnosis, and anti-retroviral therapy (ART) slows the progression of the virus to a near halt and reduces the risk of transmission, according to the Department of Health.

A total of 45,981 Filipinos living with HIV were undergoing ART as of September this year.

They account for 57 percent of the 80,434 cases listed in the National AIDS Registry as of September. The registry includes 4,196 reported deaths, representing over five percent of the cases.

The Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will help the Philippines in its immunization campaign against COVID-19 once a vaccine becomes available, Defensor said.

“The fund will help us because the coronavirus disease is already overwhelming our public health system and derailing our efforts to suppress AIDS, and even tuberculosis,” Defensor said.

“They are already helping us in the fight to suppress COVID-19, mainly through donations of GeneXpert PCR machines and Xpert Xpress test kits. They will surely help us some more in the vaccination,” Defensor said.